Tips on How to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

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Although Christmas decorations showed up on many store shelves in the first week of October this year (!?!!?!), I normally don’t begin to think about the holidays until after Halloween.

The first week of November is when I pull out my huge baggie of holiday recipes in search of fun food ideas.  I am a Virgo, so of course, my closets are impeccably organized by color and my drawers are neat and tidy.  But, my recipes and my cooking style – well, let’s just say, is on the messy side of the spectrum!  Much to my Mom’s chagrin, may she rest in peace, I do not “clean up as I go” when I cook.  I make a big mess!  It’s the one area of my life that is very un-Virgo!

Ellen's Recipes!

Ellen’s Recipes!

The other area that I have not quite mastered is how to avoid the “Holiday 10” (pounds, that is)!   I do have a range of sizes in my closet, but just once, I would like to master the holidays without packing on those extra pounds.

That in mind, I reached out to Dr. Caroline Apovian, the Director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at the Boston Medical Center, and also the author of The Age-Defying Diet, to give us her top three tips!  Here ya go:

Eat Plenty of Protein

Some of the weight gain that comes with aging can be attributed to the process of sarcopenia.  Once you reach age 30, you begin to lose about one percent of your muscle mass every year.  This process accelerates in your forties.  Why does muscle loss cause weight gain?  The speed of our metabolism is directly dependent on how much lean muscle mass we have.  In other words, the more muscle you have, the more calories your metabolism will burn, and vice versa. 

One way to prevent muscle loss and build up your lean muscle mass is to eat plenty of protein.  I recommend my patients build their meals around lean protein sources, such as fresh salmon or tuna, lean ground turkey, or chicken.  Not only will protein help to prevent muscle loss, it will also keep you feeling full and satiated between meals, helping to sidestep mindless snacking and empty calories.

 Another great strategy for combating mid-life weight gain with protein is to swap out a meal for a high protein smoothie.  Taking a short break from solid foods encourages your body to tap into fat stores for energy, improves metabolism, decreases inflammation in the body, and reduces risks for type 2 diabetes, amongst other health benefits.  Combining the technique of intermittent fasting with a protein source ensures that your muscles will stay fed and nourished.  I recommend a protein powder that is a combination of whey and casein.  Whey reaches your muscles quickly, preventing breakdown, and casein digests more slowly, keeping you feeling full for a longer period of time.  I have developed a mix of blend of proteins, vitamins, and minerals specifically designed to aid weight loss, though any low calorie, unsweetened combination of these two protein sources will work well.

Work Out with Weights

Strength training, or working out with weights, is the best form of exercise for menopausal women.  Using your muscles regularly, in conjunction with feeding them plenty of protein, reverses the process of sarcopenia.  This both preserves the lean muscle mass that you have and naturally boosts your metabolism.  This is crucial for weight loss, as a higher metabolic rate means that you will burn more calories all day long, not only while you are exercising. 

 Many of my patients shy away from weightlifting, thinking that it will be too difficult to begin in middle age, or thinking that they will end up looking too big or bulky.  Do not fear!  If you are new to strength training, start with lighter weights and fewer reps, and gradually build your way up as you gain strength.  The vast majority of us do not have the genetic capacity to build our muscles up to the extent of a bodybuilder.  Instead, you’ll notice your body becoming leaner, firmer, and more toned as you progress.

 Not only will strength training boost your metabolism and help you to lose weight, in clinical studies, it has also been linked to lower stress levels, improved memory and cognitive skills, bone loss prevention, and reduced risks of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Sleep

Every function your body performs depends on an adequate amount of sleep to continue working properly.  This includes your metabolism and your hormone levels.  While you sleep, your muscles are repaired, and a lack of sleep interrupts this process, leading to further muscle breakdown.  Your hunger and satiety hormones, ghrelin and leptin, are brought into balance while you sleep.  Sleeping less than the recommended 7-9 hours per night ensures that your hunger hormones will be high the next day, and your satiety hormones will be low.  In other words, no matter what you eat, you will continue to feel hungry and experience cravings. 

To complicate matters, not getting enough sleep prompts the production of cortisol, one of our primary stress hormones.  Not only does this hormone make you feel anxious, it also triggers cravings for carbohydrates and sugar, and encourages overeating to compensate for the perceived threat your body faces.

I understand that in our fast-paced society, regularly receiving 7-9 hours of sleep will require major lifestyle changes and sacrifices.  However, I encourage you to remember the benefits of sleep.  Not only will weight loss become easier, you will also reduce health risks, improve your mood, lower your stress levels, and strengthen your memory, concentration, reasoning, and problem-solving abilities. Many of my patients have actually become more productive after committing to sleeping more, not less.

Let’s all make a pact:  No more stressing about holiday weight gain.  Let’s plan in advance and enjoy ourselves and the holidays without the stress.  This holiday season, being mindful of these simple tips. Let’s enjoy ourselves and be the healthiest, happiest “us” possible!

My Motto:  Suffering in silence is OUT!  Reaching out is IN!

Download my free eBook, MENOPAUSE MONDAYS The Girlfriends Guide to Surviving and Thriving during Perimenopause and Menopause.

 

After struggling with her own severe menopause symptoms and doing years of research, Ellen resolved to share what she learned from experts and her own trial and error. Her goal was to replace the confusion, embarrassment, and symptoms millions of women go through–before, during, and after menopause–with the medically sound solutions she discovered. Her passion to become a “sister” and confidant to all women fueled Ellen’s first book, Shmirshky: the pursuit of hormone happiness. As a result of the overwhelming response from her burgeoning audiences and followers’ requests for empowering information they could trust, Ellen’s weekly blog, Menopause MondaysTM, was born.

  • Tam Warner Minton

    Sounds good. I always gain 7 lbs, and it takes months to take it off. I am determined…not this year.

    • Let’s do it together, Tam! We can support each other!

  • Liz

    I like that your tips are about what to do, not what to cut out.

  • sue

    Great tips Ellen and I actually have a similar post scheduled. We can still enjoy the holiday season without then having to face tighter clothes and perhaps not feeling great about ourselves. Not a good way to start a New Year!

  • Boy, is THIS a timely post, Ellen. I went kind of crazy on vacay in Santa Fe.

    • I hear ya. I do the same when I am on vacation….but then I just get back on track when I get home. Takes a little longer to shed that vacation weight now that I am 63. However, when I get back to my healthy eating lifestyle – it does eventually come off.

  • Toni McCloe

    These are all very important points. Getting enough sleep and protein and exercising with weights are very good tips. (I, too am a Virgo. However, I am your polar opposite when it come to neatness. Very neat and orderly with recipes and while cooking, but but drawers and closets could use a lot if attention.)

    • Virgos rule! How about we switch this holiday – you can come and cook all neat and tidy in my house for the holiday and I will come and organize your drawers and closets?!!

  • I am going to have to try the smoothie tip. I am not hosting this year but bringing various dishes. I feel good about deviled eggs as an appetizer. Protein a few hours before the main event plus any reason for me to make deviled eggs is a good reason.

    • Great planning, Haralee! I, also, try to have a snack before a party so that I am not starving when I get there. BTW I love deviled eggs. I would love your recipe.

  • doreenmcgettigan

    I really need to pay attention to this. I definitely have gone off the rails with my diet and my sleep habits.

  • I think it should be “how to avoid weight gain all year round!” I seem to be creeping steadily upwards so I’ll keep the protein in mind (and portion size!)

    • Ellen Dolgen

      So true, Leanne! These tips are great year round. I find portion size really helps me! Sometimes I have the appetite of a football lineman!

    • So true, Leanne! These tips are great year round. I find portion size really helps me! Sometimes I have the appetite of a football lineman!

  • Read Kimberly Jayne

    I do all of those suggestions, with the exception of getting enough sleep. I realize it may even be the most important aspect of keeping off those extra pounds, but I have always had trouble making myself go to bed. My natural rhythms resist the early-to-bed routine, so I’m a work in progress there. I almost wonder if the rest of it, higher protein diet and exercise, is going to be nullified while I enjoy the holidays. It’s the hardest time to stay on track–I don’t even want to most of the time. We will see I guess. Thank you for the reminders.

    • I hear ya! It is hard to change habits. The sleep one is easy for me. I am a good sleeper. I need to work on having one holiday cookie – instead of 5!